The men who braved the Arctic a century ago in sailing ships and dog sleds would marvel at the ease of today's visits. Chartered planes fly tourists to the North Pole,where they stand on the ice and pop open bottles of champagne; travelers cross the frozen wasteland in Snow Cats, hunting caribou, musk ox and polar bear with camera; passenger ships navigate the Northwest Passage in days instead of years.
If ice conditions permit, Society Expeditions is planning to complete two additional adventurous voyages this year -- a 32-day west-to-east transit of the passage from Nome, Alaska, to the island of Saint-Pierre, south of Newfoundland -- by the 92-passenger Society Explorer; and a concurrent 32-day east-to-west transit from Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland, to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, by the 140-passenger World Discoverer. Passengers have the option of a shorter 20-day journey in either direction by beginning or ending the segment in Resolute, the northernmost port of call in Canada's Arctic, where air service with connections to southern Canada and the United States is available.
Prices range from $11,400 to $23,830 plus air fare for the 32-day version, and $7,990 to $19,100, plus air, for the 20-day segment. Society Expeditions also offers a variety of other adventure trips around the world.
For more information on the Northwest Passage and other programs, contact your travel agent or Society Expeditions, 723 Broadway East, Seattle, Wash. 98102, (800) 426-7794.
If you want to venture into the Arctic by land, a Washington-state company called Special Odysseys has tours of Inuit villages; canoe trips among ice floes to see narwhal, seal, walrus and whales; snowmobile excursions across the sea ice in late spring; and tours to the North Pole. Contact them at Special Odysseys, Box 37, Medina, Wash. 98039, (206) 455-1960.
For information on the dog-sled expedition from Gjoa Haven to Spence Bay, write to Peter Akkikungnug, Opingak Tours, Gjoa Haven, N.W.T. XOE 1JO, Canada, or the Gjoa Haven Tourism Association at the same address.
An illustrated guide to the Northwest Territories, the "1986 Explorers' Guide," is available free by writing to TravelArctic, Yellowknife, N.W.T. X1A 2L9, (403) 873-7000.